Transfer Student Flourishes in Integrated Undergraduate Community at GS
From the farmlands of Maryland to the research labs at The Earth Institute, Sepp Panzer has found his home at GS. He now seeks to make the world a more inhabitable place for all forms of life, working on carbon sequestration, negative emission tech, and oceanic nutrition and fertilization.
Sepp Panzer grew up in the small town of Parkton, Maryland—a one-streetlight agricultural community with the world’s best fried chicken served at the corner store. He raised chickens and pigs as a boy, even building his own chicken house, and selling eggs locally.
While such a pastoral place might sound idyllic, Panzer’s childhood was fraught with turmoil, including his parents’ ongoing and often contentious divorce and custody battle, as well as the difficulties of growing up as a gay young man in a conservative town.
To escape his home life, Panzer enjoyed the bucolic farmlands and forests around him and threw himself deeply into his school’s theatre and chamber choir programs—so much so that his academics fell by the wayside.
“I used to get suspended for skipping classes so I could go and work on the upcoming theatre production,” Panzer remembers. “I didn’t care about school at the time, and it showed—my GPA was a 2.27.”
After graduating from high school, Panzer had no real plan for the future, trying out various retail jobs for several years and not finding fulfillment in any of them. He did find focus and stability in his work with a nonprofit youth organization, filling the role of state president. He thought he’d discovered his cornerstone, but when he wanted to run for international representative and was told by the administration that he wasn’t allowed—likely because of his homosexuality, he believes—he was crushed.
“I was at an important point in my life: this organization was my big next step that I was banking on, and it got ripped out from underneath me,” Panzer recalls. “I had no idea what to do, so I took a job managing a local coffee shop called The Filling Station in my hometown. It’s funny how much you don’t realize it at the time, but that job taught me more about accountability and discipline in three years than I had learned anywhere else.”
With Panzer’s motivation and self-esteem renewed, he decided he wanted to reach for new heights.
“I became really invigorated and thought, ‘Let me try this school thing out again,’” says Panzer. “I went to a community college in Maryland part-time for a year, and when I got a 3.8, I realized that maybe I could actually do this.”
Panzer enrolled at Harvard Extension School seeking a more fulfilling learning environment. He commuted an hour each way daily for his courses, but while he enjoyed Harvard, he didn’t feel like he was a part of the university. As an extension student, he was only allowed to take certain courses on campus, and he wasn’t able to participate in Harvard organizations, programs, internships, or research.
Being at GS was the first time where I felt like somebody gave me a real chance to prove my worth and make an impact on the world—a feeling I’ve been robbed of in other times throughout my life.
Panzer knew he wanted to be part of a more integrated community during his undergraduate experience, so after learning about GS’s seamless approach to nontraditional student education, he was convinced that this could be his opportunity to flourish.
“Being at GS was the first time where I felt like somebody gave me a real chance to prove my worth and make an impact on the world—a feeling I’ve been robbed of in other times throughout my life,” says Panzer.
Since enrolling in 2017, Panzer has had to work hard to find his footing in this new world. His original choice of a mathematics-statistics major wasn’t a home run for him; it was more theoretical than his previous studies, and he craved something more hands on. Panzer decided to switch his major to sustainable development to follow his lifelong passion of saving nature.
One of Panzer’s academic foci is on renewable energy, and he recently completed an internship at ACT Commodities, working to incentivize companies to switch to renewables to limit their carbon output. He has also worked on carbon sequestration, which seeks to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to ultimately reduce climate change. One of his projects dealt with oceanic acidification and ocean fertilization to increase the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon.
“The preservation of life has motivated me since I was young, and I’ve seen that wildlife and plants are dying because of the choices society makes. There’s an innate vulnerability in something that can’t speak for itself, and I want to help protect them.”
Outside of the classroom, Panzer volunteers with the Coral Restoration Foundation to help bring back destroyed ecosystems, contributing to the expansion of the critically endangered Staghorn and Elkhorn coral. Panzer was involved in a project to clip and transport coral to a nursery, relocating it once it matured to its permanent home in the Bonaire Reef in the Caribbean.
As for Panzer’s homegrown egg business, it has developed into the Ferguson Family Farm back home in Maryland, run by his mother. He uses his mathematical background to oversee and administer the purchase and sale of all operational equipment and maintain the data for company finances.
The preservation of life has motivated me since I was young, and I’ve seen that wildlife and plants are dying because of the choices society makes. There’s an innate vulnerability in something that can’t speak for itself, and I want to help protect them.